Considering the amount of time we spend checking our phones and sitting at our computers, it makes sense that our necks are particularly prone to aches, pains, and overall stress. At-home methods like yoga for neck pain, acupressure mats, and herbal remedies are all great ways to alleviate tension and pressure, without having to take a trip to the chiropractor. Even better? Invest in your own neck stretcher and you can ease your aches and pains using cervical traction, the same method chiropractors and physical therapists use in their clinics.
Sean Cooney, board-certified chiropractor and owner of RESPORT Chiropractic & Physical Therapy in Chicago, Illinois, describes cervical traction as "axial or long-wise stretching of the neck." Chiropractors can do this by hand but will often use neck traction devices, too. With a great neck stretcher, you can achieve this relief at home. Just note, if you do plan on using one of these devices on your own, make sure to consult with your chiropractor or health care provider to determine which is right for you and how best to use it.
"At-home stretching devices attempt to decompress the joints by applying load to pull the head up away from the body with a sustained load," Cooney explains. "Chiropractic adjustments utilize an applied load through a joint in a specific angle to try to gap the joints and restore normal range of motion to the joints."
Read on to find our picks for the best neck stretchers, along with expert input on how to safely use these tools and the different types of neck stretches you can do with them.
When to use a neck stretcher.
"People with neck pain, muscle tension, muscle spasm, or disc issues can use neck stretchers/cervical traction to relieve tension, decrease spasm, and increase joint space in the neck," Cooney advises. He goes on to say, "It is not something I would recommend for use on a regular basis, but if you are in pain or if it is part of a structured rehabilitation program."
Keep in mind, it's important to be supervised or properly instructed by a professional. Per Cooney, "As with anything that affects the neck, I would only use a neck stretcher or cervical traction unit under medical supervision." It's also important to note that neck stretchers are contraindicated for some diagnoses, such as hypermobility syndrome or ligamentous injuries.
Different types of neck stretchers.
Chiropractors, physical therapists, and other medical professionals use a variety of cervical traction devices (as well as their hands for manual adjustments and manual traction). Mechanical cervical traction is performed through the use of a device like a traction table, or an over-the-door system that uses counterweight to pull your head upward, relieving tension from your neck and spine.
Other types of neck stretchers include:
Inflatable: An inflatable neck stretcher allows you to adjust the level of pressure applied to suit your individual relief needs, but it might not be a great fit for those who don't like something around their neck.
Static hammock: A static hammock is similar to an over-the-door system but easier to use at home and more portable. The limiting factor is that it must be attached to a door to be utilized.
Mechanical: Mechanical traction devices most closely resemble what a health care provider might use, but they tend to be much more expensive than some of the other options.
Static pillow: The static neck pillow is extremely easy to use, but offers fewer levels of intensity.
How we picked:
We included options at a wide range of prices so everyone can get some neck relief, no matter their budget.
Customer feedback is important, so we read hundreds of reviews to ensure we were considering a variety of opinions.
There are a few different types of neck stretchers, and our list has options for everyone.
The devices we chose are small enough to take on the go, making it easier for you to experience relief when you need it.
Our picks for the best neck stretchers of 2022:
Best Pillow: Restcloud Neck and Shoulder Relaxer
- Easy to use
- Less expensive
- Takes a few uses to feel relief
This neck stretcher is an Amazon best-seller, with over 30,000 five-star ratings. The device is incredibly easy to use, as it’s actually just a structured foam pillow. To use, simply lay flat the pillow on the ground and position it below your neck. Your neck may need a few uses to get comfortable in the position (try just 5 minutes at first), but after that, relief can be felt in as little as 10 minutes.
Both sides of the device can be used: one for gentle traction, which is great for your first few uses, and one for stronger traction, for once your neck is more accustomed to it. The device also features six massage nodes.
What customers say:
There are thousands of rave reviews for this neck stretcher—some of which refer to it as “literally life-changing.” Take it from this person, “I have been more joyful, lighthearted and just overall feeling better than I have in years. Like I said, I know this is going to sound silly. But if you’re dealing with any sort of neck pain or tension headaches PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE try this.”
Best inflatable: Crabclaw Inflatable Neck Stretcher
- Immediate relief
- Relief is temporary
Picture three travel pillows all stacked up, and you’ve got this inflatable neck stretcher. The key feature here is adjustability. Much like a standard neck pillow, after positioning this device on your neck, you can inflate it and use the velcro straps to adjust the size.
The fleece-like fabric makes it comfortable on your neck, and the design is incredibly convenient to use throughout your day. For relief from neck tension, chronic neck pain, headaches, or general soreness, the brand recommends using it for 15 to 30 minutes per day, up to three times a day. It is helpful for alleviating pain caused by back and spinal decompression, neck strains, spasms, or herniated discs.
What customers say:
Another “life-changing” neck stretcher, this one has a 4.6 overall rating (out of five), and hundreds of reviews to back it up. “My neck hasn't felt so good in decades! What an amazing feeling! It is interesting to see an immediate change in mood, outlook on life, etc you have when you are suddenly not experiencing the pain that you commonly live with,” one person says.
Best splurge: ComfortTrac Deluxe Home Cervical Traction Kit 2.0
- Immediate relief
- Comes with carrying case
If you have the budget to splurge, this one’s for you. This top-of-the-line cervical traction kit supplies up to 50 pounds of force, and has an adjustable incline angle of 10, 15, or 20 degrees. While, yes, this is the most expensive product on our list, it also offers the most intense neck-stretching experience, and truly is most similar to what you might find in your physical therapist’s office.
It’s easy to use and comes with an adjustable neck cradle that contours to your neck, providing optimal support. You’ll feel immediate relief with this one. While it does come with a sleek carrying case, the device is bulkier than others.
What customers say:
With a 4.4 out of five-star rating overall, this neck stretcher has nearly 1,000 five-star ratings and hundreds of positive comments. One person writes, “This was a gift to my daughter who has degenerative disc disease, and she states it helps her immensely. Her husband also has issues, and he says this has given him relief.”
- Immediate relief
- Comes with storage bag
- Some complaints about quality
Another neck stretcher that’s incredibly easy to use, this hammock is a head sling that works by pulling on your head to release pressure in your neck. To use, hang it over any door in your home, lie down, and place your head in the hammock. You’ll feel the relief immediately.
The hammock is small and portable, so you can experience that immediate ease anytime and anywhere. Their package includes an eye mask, a storage bag, and a do not disturb door hanger (so no one opens the door while you’re using it).
What customers say:
There are 3,500 five-star ratings for this hammock, with hundreds of reviews. People love the immediate relief they feel when using it, and the fact that it comes recommended by doctors. “When you’re in pain, any price is worth relief! When I heard from an actual surgeon that he personally uses this product, I had to take a chance…..Totally worth it! While it did not “cure “it’s significantly improved my neck, back & arm pain,” one reviewer writes.
Side effects & safety.
Again, it's important to consult with your health care provider before using a neck stretcher on your own. According to the Cleveland Clinic, if you are pregnant, claustrophobic, or have had cervical fusion surgery, you should not use a neck traction device.
"It's important not to apply too much load to the neck or for too long. Typically there are recommendations, but everyone's a little bit different depending on their condition and overall neck strength," Cooney adds.
As with any technique, you should always take a holistic approach and consider your full health. "When coming out of cervical traction it's important to work on strengthening the neck," Cooney advises. "Loosening up the muscles and then just leaving them can cause them to rebound back into spasm or tension. Establishing a good balance around the neck musculature is ultimately what typically relieves neck pain."
Are neck stretchers good for you?
Neck stretchers may be appropriate for you if you experience occasional neck pain from the daily stress in that muscle group. While seeking professional help is always best, if you learn the proper methods, these devices can help provide quick relief from home.
How do I decompress my neck myself?
Neck stretchers, or cervical traction devices, are an effective way to decompress your neck and relieve neck pain at home. To learn the proper method, it's best to speak with your chiropractor or another health professional.
What device is good for neck pain?
Cervical traction devices, like the ones mentioned above, in all of their varieties, can offer relief from neck pain and tension. Again, it's best to consult with your doctor or chiropractor to determine which device is right for you. Cooney adds, "I always encourage patients to utilize active movement as much as possible to strengthen the muscles supporting the neck."
Relief from neck pain can be a great step in feeling better overall and living a life more aligned with your goals. Neck stretchers come in a variety of types and price points, offering many of us the opportunity to relieve ourselves of chronic neck pain and tension. Feeling your best physically involves taking care of your body daily, whether that be with 10 minutes with your neck stretcher or upgrading your sleep experience with the best pillows for neck pain.